Cove Fawkes and the Fifth of November

9 11 2012

At this time of year when tyre wars, delinquent bangers and out-of-control Plasterfield gellies rage around us, people often wonder at the enthusiasm with which November the 5th is celebrated in the Stornoway area. After all, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 took place in faraway London. What’s it got to do with us up here?

The answer is of course, fleek all. The conflagrations that take place in Stornoway each year commemorate a completely different set of events that happened a year earlier, and much closer to home.

Stornoway in 1604 was a turbulent place. The citizens of the metropolis were not pleased that their new monarch, who had inherited the throne through a dynastic mischance – was an outsider; the ruler of a neighbouring kingdom which had for centuries been their bitter enemy.

Seumas Stewart VIth, King of Marybank, had succeeded to the throne of Stornoway in 1603, on the demise of his elderly cousin Good Queen Beassag Ist. Like his mother Mairi Queen of Sgorps before him, Seumas had never been satisfied with his backwater of a kingdom and had always coveted the Stornowegian Crown (and the Crit and the Lewis as well) .

To consolidate his grip he brought to Stornoway many of his courtiers from beyond the cattle grid and appointed them to positions of power in the city. Within days of Seumas’s arrival in Stornoway, the key roles of Warden of ye Trafficke, Manager of ye Fishermannes Co-oppe and Keeper of ye Quartere Bottles in ye Tradinge Poste were all given to Marybank men.

Seumas’s nobles made free with the town’s copper, lead and fuidheags, so that – as Shakespeare wrote while up visiting his Granny Parkend in 1604; “Stornewaye floodeth from above when it raineth, from below when ye closetes be flushed, and errr … they’re right out of fuidheags an’ all”.

But what made Seumas really unpopular with the Stornowegians were his views on religion. Seumas was a big pal of firebrand Rubhach preacher John Knock, and between them they decided to make all the Townies convert to Free Presbyterianism. The Stornowegians were Free Church, and were less than thrilled to hear Seumas and Knock denounce them all as adherents of a backsliding and corrupt denomination in the pay of Rome. When Seumas banned the church buses, closed down Ye Salon Nan Eilean so that blones couldn’t get their hair cut, and instructed Murdo Maclean’s to stop selling ladies’ trousers, the townsfolk became even more irate.

Meanwhile over in Spain, King Philip III saw the discontent in Stornoway as an ideal opportunity to press his claim to Goat Island and its prawn factory (See “The Spanish Discovery of Goat Island”). He instructed his agents to go out and stir up the Townies as much as possible.

Cove Fawkes came from an old Goathill noble family, and like many of the town’s aristocracy he believed that Stornoway would be a much better place without the upstart Marybank King and his heretical religion.

While on an all-inclusive fortnight in Benidorm, Cove was approached by a Spanish agent who (after failing to flog him a timeshare) outlined a plan to rid Stornoway of Seumas. The Spaniard suggested that Cove Fawkes was chust the man to do the necessary deed and promised him a big job in the prawn factory if he went through with it.

Cove Fawkes assembled a crack team of conspirators, including Thomas Percevalsquaretoilets, and plotted to strike a blow at the very heart of the Marybank establishment.

Fawkes knew that the King would be at the State Opening of Parliament on 5th November. At that time, the Stornoway Parliament met in Smith’s Shoe Shop on Cromwell St (as it did up until recently), and the King would usually open it (as he had the only key) in a state after a few drams in Ye Olde Clachan.

Fawkes decided to sneak into the under-cellars of the Parliament/Shoe Shop with a pile of gunpowder. Once he heard the King and his cronies enter, he would light the fuse and run like fleek. The upstart King and his lackeys would be blown to smithereens and justice would prevail.

Under cover of darkness Fawkes nicked 20 old herring barrels (complete with left over rotting sgadan) from the pier and stashed them in a secret location. He then wrote out a shopping list for all the equipment he would need and nipped down to Ye Crofters Store with it. He left the list with a shopkeeper and nipped out to Ye Rangeres Clubbe for a swift one. Unfortunately, due to Fawkes’ dodgy handwriting, 20 barrels worth of bun-powder (flour) were ordered instead of gunpowder.

Unaware of this, that night Cove Fawkes filled the herring barrels up with the bun-powder, and stuck the fuses into them. His gang loaded the smelly barrels onto carts and trundled them off to the Parliament.

Once the fish-reeking barrels were in place, Fawkes hid himself behind them and waited. After a short while, he heard the King stagger into the Parliament and take to the throne. Fawkes lit the fuse and ran. However, instead of a scene of devastation, the flour and herring created a giant fish pie in the ensuing explosion.

(This, incidentally led to the creation of the well known playground verse, ‘Remember, remember the fish offal November’).

Fawkes and his conspirators were soon arrested and deported to Scalpay. Cove eventually moved to London where his name became translated from townie to English as ‘Guy’, took handwriting lessons and the rest is history.

Ever since the failed attempt to blow up the Stornoway Parliament, the 5th of November was commemorated as Bunfire Night where an effigy of Cove Fawkes would be burnt to remind everyone that fish pie is fleekin’ horrible.

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